It’s hot in the kitchen, but there is beer in the fridge
Dream Local Digital and the Bangor Daily News (BDN) have embarked on a pioneering journey, to challenge the decline of the newspaper industry and map a path to success in an online world. This is the fourth in a series in which Dream Local Digital Founder & Client Success Officer, Shannon Kinney, documents the journey.
In a small, bootstrapped startup, there is a sense of urgency in the air all of the time. An urgency about getting things done, hitting deadlines, making payroll, finding funding, product testing, user testing, and of course, revenue. When beginning a new division of a well-established business, we knew that it would take a certain type of person to understand that in their new role a sense of urgency, a solid comfort with a fast pace of change, and a desire to win would be important. It also takes work on the part of leadership to create and continually reinforce that environment. This week, we laid out the culture and key foundational elements of BDN Maine to the team.
Culture is one of those terms that seems like a soft-skill to media executives, something HR takes care of, or that sales managers execute when they hang posters on the wall. With startups and teams that focus on innovation, it’s oxygen. Even if the people don’t realize it. You have to have culture pumping in the room all of the time, and it needs to be strong enough to stay with the people when they leave. It becomes part of their DNA. A sense of urgency about achieving goals, a deep sense of accountability and how each individual can perform at their best to move the company forward, a sense of pride of being on the team. At Dream Local, it does pump through the place like oxygen, we all know we’re #honeybadgers and proud of it. But, it’s much easier when you begin as a startup to create that. With BDN Maine, we have a parent company and many team members that are accustomed to doing things a certain way, with a certain style, and each has their own definition of what it means for them to be in the startup. So, introduction of culture, establishing workflows, processes and authority is a more gradual process.
We have an amazing group of talent. I look around the room when everyone is working and think back on all the startups I’ve been in over the years, which ones were most successful, but most importantly – what were the fundamental qualities, skills and abilities that the team had that helped us win. And, I see many of those skills and abilities, that sheer talent and drive, in the room. It excites me. I also realize that giving them a blueprint of success, here is what will get us off the ground fastest, needs to be delivered and digested more slowly than I’d like. Each person, and functional team within our group, needs to absorb it on their own time. You can’t begin a startup in a heavy-handed way, or you crush creativity and become the establishment that the team wants to rebel against. On the other hand, for us it’s time. We’re a racehorse that needs to get out of the gate, FAST.
BDN President Todd Benoit sat down with us at our All Hands meeting this week introducing the BDN Maine division culture, saying “you’re the ones responsible for transforming this company. It’s YOU.” Heady stuff for a young team. But true. Not only do we have to hit the goals of the division for revenue and profitability, ultimately we’re responsible for creating a new roadmap of revenue and profitability for our newspaper company parent.
What are the fundamental elements of the culture?
- A laser-focus on revenue. Revenue development drives all priorities and definition of success for our group, what we build, what we focus our time and energy on and allocation of resources will be driven by revenue and/or adding value and return on investment to our advertisers
- Developing content and products at a fraction of the cost of our parent. The old ways of solving problems won’t work, we need to create new models
- Accountability. Each member of the team has to hold themselves accountable, and understand that we as a division will hold ourselves accountable to accomplish our goals
- We feel the urgency of change from a dying print circulation to a growing mobile audience, which means our success turns largely on our efficient productivity. We know time is short and that we have a huge amount of ground to cover
- We know what success looks like and we celebrate along the way. Being clear in our goals to the team and as a team, measuring our progress, and holding ourselves accountable makes it easy to see at all times what success looks like
What are the foundational elements we’re putting in place?
- Clear goal setting, and transparency in those goals to the entire team and what it will take to get us there
- The sprint: I create a sprint every 90 days listing the top priorities of the team, and all work we’re doing needs to be focused on these top priorities. Other items can wait until the next one. In our sprint doc itself and in team meetings, we focus on what’s the next action to keep things moving forward, and fast
- Project management system / workflow implementation: We’ll be implementing a system to track tasks and efforts so that we can better manage the business and what our resources are working on, but also understand productivity, efficiency, and profitability of projects (and the division) in a more meaningful way. This is a hard discipline to introduce – not because people aren’t working hard, but because to them it feels like needless bureaucracy – and we’re working now on the best options for us moving forward
- Supporting a culture of accountability with all of our reporting, meetings and conversations team-wide and within functional teams. To do this, though, we also need a culture of creativity, experimentation, and learning. This is a balance we walk daily
In meeting with one of our project teams the easiest way for me to describe it was to say “Listen guys, we’ve got to get this done and quickly. It’s hot in the kitchen, but the good news is, there’s beer in the fridge. Now let’s make it happen.”
That one statement sums up why I thrive in startups.
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